Will Doyle, Game Director at Supermassive Games, recently introduced us to the latest chapter of their horror game collection The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes. In the first entry, Man of Medan, we accompanied some friends on a creepy boat tour in the Pacific Ocean and in the sequel, Little Hope, we got to experience the Salem witch hunt trials first hand. House of Ashes takes us even further into the past as it takes place deep underground in a hidden temple that has been buried in the desert sand for millennia.
The next game in the The Dark Pictures Anthology is set in the Middle-East during the Iraq War, around 2003. The US military suspects a hidden weapons depot somewhere in the desert and immediately starts their attack. The troops won't find the weapons they are looking for, but they are ambushed instead. The clash leads to a landslide that exposes parts of an underground temple complex and soldiers from both sides sink into the depths of the ancient buildings.
Doyle explains that this very temple was built by the self-proclaimed god king Naram-Sin of the ancient kingdom of Akkad. He supposedly built this place around 2250 BC to save his country from terrible plagues. However, the gods have certainly not forgiven him of his sins, and instead turned this place into a nest of inhumane monsters. While it's unclear what these beings really are, the fact that they prove a very real threat becomes clear after just a few minutes. According to the Game Director, they are "even worse than mass destruction weapons".
Because the situation is spiralling out of control very quickly, our characters have to overcome their military differences and find a way out of this misery together. In this horror adventure we will play five characters with a military background. Most of the characters belong to the US military, but an Israeli soldier has no choice but to join them as well. CIA Officer Rachel King, played by Ashley Tisdale, and her husband Colonel Eric King are on this mission together. Since we don't have teenagers in House of Ashes for a change, erotic tensions should take a back seat, but such a family brings its very own tail of problems along.
The two soldiers Jason Kolchek and Nick Kay are described as friends who know each other for a long time. Jason, however, has a higher military rank, so his friend must obey his orders... On the other hand, we have the Iraqi officer Salim Othman, who will struggle to follow the US military. At its core, House of Ashes will tell a story about loyalty and trust, because the cooperation of all these people is essential to survive the dangerous situation that Supermassive Games has come up with. It is up to us whether these characters will finish their journey alive. This plot can also come to an end without a single character surviving.
Uncovering the mystery that surrounds this ancient place will be another major part of the story. We won't have to squeeze ourselves through narrow tunnels at all times, since we will explore large caves, too. The catacombs reach hundreds of meters deep and Supermassive Games named a few sources of inspiration for their "exploratory horror": Aliens, Predator and The Descent are among them, as well as H.P. Lovecraft's novel "At the Mountains of Madness". The first few examples should give you an idea of the inhuman enemies that are waiting in the dark.
In his presentation, Doyle addressed a few improvements that Supermassive Games took from the feedback of Little Hope and Man of Medan. The biggest addition is the introduction of a freely rotatable, 360-degree camera that you have full control over. There will also be some adjustments to the difficulty options, as we now have three options available and will be able to adapt the challenge quick-time events (QTE) provide as well. For example, in House of Ashes we can set the time frame and speed that are required for solving certain inputs. In addition, the "graphical level of detail" on next-gen platforms was emphasized, without further details.
Similar to the earlier installations of The Dark Pictures Anthology, you'll be able to play House of Ashes with your friends. A total of four game modes will be available, but one is reserved for pre-orderers only (in the past, however, this extra was made available to all players sometimes after launch). In Shared Story, you play the entire game in online co-op. In Movie Night, up to five offline friends choose a character at the beginning of the game, and they take over the controller as soon as it's their turn.
The default single player experience is now called "Theatrical Cut" and if you buy the "Curator's Cut", you'll get an alternative perspective with perspectives of other characters and new scenes. How that will differ your game experience can be seen early on in House of Ashes: Usually we would play the marine Nick who is looking for his buddy/boss Jason. In the Curator's Cut, however, we play Jason who meets up with Nick. The both of them carefully explore different tunnels and they have other conversation options at their disposal. At the end, they are attacked by unknown monsters, but they can escape together (unlike some less fortunate soldiers).
Ten minutes of gameplay and cut-scenes won't tell us much about the game, but if you are familiar with the predecessors, House of Ashes will introduce a new setting and difficulty options to the existing formula. The caves are often very dark, but you can illuminate them with a flashlight. This tool will slow our movement down, but it's not yet known how this will affect our experience. Maybe in some scenes we don't have enough time to look around in peace? That would certainly add to the horror House of Ashes is aiming at. The game is slated to release later this year - it's coming to current and last gen consoles.